Cambodia: Reversing course on dam construction

Cambodia: Reversing course on dam construction

Electricity-starved Cambodia will not develop new hydropower dams on the Mekong River for the next
10 years, a senior energy official said in April 2020, as the country reviews its policy to seek energy from coal, natural gas and solar.

The decision means that neighboring Laos, which has opened two new dams on the mainstream Mekong in the recent months, is the only country in the Lower Mekong Basin planning hydropower on the river that sustains
60 million people.

Victor Jona, director-general of energy at Cambodia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, said the government was following a study done by a Japanese consultant that recommended Cambodia seek energy elsewhere.

“According to the study, we need to develop coal, LNG [liquefied natural gas], imports from neighboring countries and solar energy,” he said, adding that he could not give details contained in a government master plan.

“In this 10-year plan, from 2020 to 2030, we have no plans to develop a mainstream dam,” he said.

Environmentalists have warned that dams will harm fisheries and farming along the 2,390-kilometer Lower Mekong. (Pictured: A fisherman brings in his day’s catch on the Mekong River.)

The river nourishes fishing grounds and farmlands as it flows from China, winding past or through Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Some other officials, however, have said a record drought and low fish catches over the past year were due to environmental changes and overfishing.

Cambodia had previously announced plans for two dams at Sambor and Stung Treng, but both projects are on hold.

Across the border in Laos, power from the new
Don Sahong hydropower facility began flowing into Cambodia’s grid in January 2020 under a 30-year-old deal.

In 2019, Cambodia had the worst power outages in years as a surge in demand was fueled by a construction boom accompanying Chinese investment.

Officials have said that the electricity shortage was also due to low water levels at hydropower dams on other rivers and tributaries of the Mekong across the country.

Cambodia uses hydropower for about 48% of its domestic electricity production, according to the state utility Electricite du Cambodge.

With demand growing fast, Cambodia imported about 25% of its electricity in 2019, with the bulk of it transmitted from Vietnam and Thailand, according to government statistics.  Reuters